Friday, 14 March 2008

“It’s another round of the credit crisis. Some markets are getting worse than January this time. There is fear that something dramatic will happen and that fear is feeding itself,” Jesper Fischer-Nielsen, interest rate strategist at Danske Bank, Copenhagen; Reuters Yesterday’s action by the Federal Reserve proves that the banking system is insolvent and the US economy is at the brink of collapse. It also shows that the Fed is willing to intervene directly in the stock market if it keeps equities propped up. This is clearly a violation of its mandate and runs contrary to the basic tenets of a free market. Investors who shorted the market yesterday, got clobbered by the not so invisible hand of the Fed chief. In his prepared statement, Bernanke announced that the Fed would add $200 billion to the financial system to shore up banks that have been battered by mortgage-related losses. The news was greeted with jubilation on Wall Street where traders sent stocks skyrocketing by 416 points, their biggest one-day gain in five years. “It’s like they’re putting jumper cables onto a battery to kick-start the credit market,” said Nick Raich, a manager at National City Private Client Group in Cleveland. “They’re doing their best to try to restore confidence.” “Confidence”? Is that what it’s called when the system is bailed out by Sugar-daddy Bernanke? To understand the real meaning behind the Fed’s action; it’s worth considering some of the stories which popped up in the business news just days earlier. For example, last Friday, the International Herald Tribune reported: “Tight money markets, tumbling stocks and the dollar are expected to heighten worries for investors this week as pressure mounts on central banks facing what looks like the “third wave” of a global credit crisis….Money markets tightened to levels not seen since December, when year-end funding problems pushed lending costs higher across the board.”The Herald Tribune said that troubles in the credit markets had pushed the stock market down more than 3 percent in a week and that the same conditions which preceded the last two crises (in August and December) were back stronger than ever. In other words, liquidity was vanishing from the system and the market was headed for a crash.A report in Reuters reiterated the same ominous prediction of a “third wave” saying: “The two-year U.S. Treasury yields hit a 4-year low below 1.5 percent as investors flocked to safe-haven government bonds….The cost of corporate bond insurance hit record highs on Friday and parts of the debt market which had previously escaped the turmoil are also getting hit.”Risk premiums were soaring and investors were fleeing stocks and bonds for the safety of government Treasuries; another sure sign that liquidity was disappearing.Reuters: “The level of financial stress is … likely to continue to fuel speculation of more immediate central bank action either in the form of increased liquidity injections or an early rate cut,” Goldman Sachs said in a note to clients.” Indeed. When there’s a funding-freeze by lenders, investors hit the exits as fast as their feet will carry them. That’s why the lights started blinking red at the Federal Reserve and Bernanke concocted a plan to add $200 billion to the listing banking system.
New York Times columnist Paul Krugman also referred to a “third wave” in his article “The Face-Slap Theory”. According to Krugman, “The Fed has been cutting the interest rate it controls - the so-called Fed funds rate – (but) the rates that matter most directly to the economy, including rates on mortgages and corporate bonds, have been rising. And that’s sure to worsen the economic downturn.”…(Now) “the banks and other market players who took on too much risk are all trying to get out of unsafe investments at the same time, causing significant collateral damage to market functioning.” What the Times’ columnist is describing is a run on the financial system and the onset of “a full-fledged financial panic.”
The point is, Bernanke’s latest scheme is not a remedy for the trillion dollar unwinding of bad bets. It is merely a quick-fix to avoid a bloody stock market crash brought on by prevailing conditions in the credit markets.

Bernanke coordinated the action with the other members of the global banking cartel—The Bank of Canada, the Bank of England, the European Central Bank, the Federal Reserve, and the Swiss National Bank—and cobbled together the new Term Securities Lending Facility (TSLF), which “will lend up to $200 billion of Treasury securities to primary dealers secured for a term of 28 days (rather than overnight, as in the existing program) by a pledge of other securities, including federal agency debt, federal agency residential-mortgage-backed securities (MBS), and non-agency AAA/Aaa-rated private-label residential MBS. The TSLF is intended to promote liquidity in the financing markets for Treasury and other collateral and thus to foster the functioning of financial markets more generally.” (Fed statement)
The plan, of course, is wildly inflationary and will put additional downward pressure on the anemic dollar. No matter. All of the Fed’s tools are implicitly inflationary anyway, but they’ll all be put to use before the current crisis is over.
The Fed’s statement continues: “The Federal Open Market Committee has authorized increases in its existing temporary reciprocal currency arrangements (swap lines) with the European Central Bank (ECB) and the Swiss National Bank (SNB). These arrangements will now provide dollars in amounts of up to $30 billion and $6 billion to the ECB and the SNB, respectively, representing increases of $10 billion and $2 billion. The FOMC extended the term of these swap lines through September 30, 2008.”

So, why is the Fed issuing loans to foreign banks? Isn’t that a tacit admission of its guilt in the trillion dollar subprime swindle? Or is it simply a way of warding off litigation from angry foreign investors who know they were cheated with worthless toxic bonds? In any event, the Fed’s largess proves that the G-10 operates as de facto cartel determining monetary policy for much of the world. (The G-10 represents roughly 85% of global GDP)As for Bernanke’s Term Securities Lending Facility (TSLF) it is intentionally designed to circumvent the Fed’s mandate to only take top-grade collateral in exchange for loans. No one believes that these triple A mortgage-backed securities are worth more than $.70 on the dollar. In fact, according to a report in Bloomberg News yesterday: “AAA debt fell as low as 61 cents on the dollar after record home foreclosures and a decline to AA may push the value of the debt to 26 cents, according to Credit Suisse Group.
“The fact that they’ve kept those ratings where they are is laughable,” said Kyle Bass, chief executive officer of Hayman Capital Partners, a Dallas-based hedge fund that made $500 million last year betting lower-rated subprime-mortgage bonds would decline in value. “Downgrades of AAA and AA bonds are imminent, and they’re going to be significant.” Bass estimates most of AAA subprime bonds in the ABX indexes will be cut by an average of six or seven levels within six weeks.” (Bloomberg News) The Fed is accepting these garbage bonds at nearly full-value. Another gift from Santa Bernanke. Additionally, the Fed is offering 28 day repos which –if this auction works like the Fed’s other facility, the TAF—the loans can be rolled over free of charge for another 28 days. Yippee. The Fed found a way to recapitalize the banks with permanent rotating loans and the public is none the wiser. The capital-starved banksters at Citi and Merrill must feel like they just won the lottery. Unfortunately, Bernanke’s move effectively nationalizes the banks and makes them entirely dependent on the Fed’s fickle generosity.
The New York Times Floyd Norris sums up Bernanke’s efforts like this:
“The Fed’s moves today and last Friday are a direct effort to counter a loss of liquidity in mortgage-backed securities, including those backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Given the implied government guarantee of Freddie and Fannie, rising yields in their paper served as a warning sign that the crunch was worsening and investor confidence was waning. On Oct. 30, the day before the Fed cut the Fed funds rate from 4.75 percent to 4.5 percent, the yield on Fannie Mae securities was 5.75 percent. Today the Fed Funds rate is 3 percent, and the Fannie Mae rate is 5.71 percent, virtually the same as in October…..A sign of the Fed’s success, or lack of same, will be visible in that rate. It needs to come down sharply, in line with Treasury bond rates. Today, the rate was up for most of the day, but it did fall back at the end of the day. Watch that rate for the rest of the week to see indications of whether the Fed’s move is really working to restore confidence.”



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